Cancer is often regarded in our society as a natural, if grim, part of the human condition — a dark shadow that hangs over our health. This is hardly surprising, given that one in three people develop cancer at some stage in their lives, with the disease ultimately responsible for a quarter of all deaths in Britain.
Yet it is possible that cancer is not nearly as natural as we might think.
Through research with fellow scientist Professor Michael Zimmerman, I have uncovered powerful evidence to suggest that cancer could largely be a modern phenomenon linked to our diet, environment and lifestyles.
Over the past 30 years, we have conducted an extensive study into ancient mummified bodies, skeletal remains and classical literature from ancient societies. If cancer had always been prevalent in humans, we would have expected to find a large number of cases of it.
But what we discovered was striking. In all these studies, involving tens of thousands of individuals, we found hardly any. Among the hundreds of mummies we examined, only three definite incidences of cancer were detected: one from Chile, one from 14th-century Italy and one from ancient Egypt.